Defence scholars with a passion to serve

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29 Jul 2022 | PEOPLE

Defence scholars with a passion to serve

Report by Thrina Tham / Photos by Kenneth Lin

The defence scholarship awards are a responsibility not for those lacking in resolve or steel in their characters, said defence minister Dr Ng Eng Hen.

Some of this year's recipients – a total of 93 Defence Scholarships were awarded this year.

Halfway through his Officer Cadet Course, Military Expert 4 (Apprentice), or ME4(A), Florian Kuhan Ableitner sustained a knee injury and had to drop out.

Feeling disheartened, he was unsure of whether to retake his course. Calling it "one of my lowest points", he reflected on his journey and picked himself up, eventually joining the next course in December 2019.

This actually turned out to be a "blessing in disguise". ME4(A) Florian set a goal to do better in his re-course, as he had been through much of it before.

Several of his course mates looked to him for guidance, and he found he was able to better hone his leadership skills this time round.

ME4(A) Florian then decided to sign on as a Military Intelligence Expert in the Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) community.

He also applied for and received the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Merit Scholarship. The 23-year-old will begin reading Aerospace Engineering at the Nanyang Technological University this August.

A knee injury caused ME4(A) Florian to drop out of Officer Cadet School but it didn’t stop him from re-joining the course in the next cohort.

Committed to Singapore's defence

The son of a German dad (who is a Permanent Resident in Singapore) and an Indian-Singaporean mum, ME4(A) Florian is the first in his family to serve national service.

With strong support from his parents, he joined the C4I community hoping to contribute to Singapore's safety and security.

"There's been a growing trend in hybrid warfare… You look at terrorism, cyber security breaches and even disinformation. It's a new field and I was interested in knowing more."

ME4(A) Florian commemorating his BMT graduation with his parents in September 2020. He was awarded Company Best for the 5th Company cohort. [Photo courtesy of ME4(A) Florian]

ME4(A) Florian was among the 93 recipients who were awarded their scholarships at a ceremony held at the Istana on 29 Jul.

Of the recipients, six were awarded the SAF Scholarship, four received the Public Service Commission Scholarship (Engineering) – Defence and Security, and 19 received the SAF Merit Scholarship.

Another six were awarded the SAF Engineering Scholarship while 15 received the Defence Merit Scholarship. In addition, six received the SAF Medicine Scholarship, one received the SAF Dentistry Scholarship, and 36 received the Defence Science and Technology Scholarship.

Speaking at the award ceremony, Dr Ng said that the scholarship recipients had a responsibility to grow Singapore’s defence to the best of their abilities.

Not for the faint of heart

These scholarship recipients will be entering the defence sector amid an uncertain future and mounting security challenges, said defence minister Dr Ng Eng Hen.

In an opening address for the ceremony, he said: "This responsibility that you have taken in accepting your scholarship is not for the faint of heart nor those lacking in resolve or steel in their characters."

He also highlighted that the scholars come from 22 Junior Colleges and Polytechnics – the largest number of institutions to date.

They will go on to pursue a wide range of multi-disciplinary subjects, from Economics to Engineering and Law to Computer Science.

"I applaud our recipients for undertaking these demanding and diverse fields. Diverse in experiences and backgrounds you may be, but you must now gel with that collective resolve to grow MINDEF (Ministry of Defence), SAF, DSTA (Defence Science and Technology Agency) and DSO (DSO National Laboratories) to the best of your capabilities," he said.

Dr Ng presenting the SAF Scholarship award to OCT Solai, one of six SAF Scholarship recipients this year.

Hunt the good stuff

Also among this year's scholarship recipients was Officer Cadet (OCT) G Solai Valli. Although her parents were hesitant about her joining the SAF at first, they soon realised how committed she was and supported her in her decision.

"I was interested in the SAF since secondary school and liked its emphasis on working with people and doing purposeful work," said the 19-year-old who signed on as an armour officer.

She added: "When I was in Basic Military Training (BMT), my mother would always help do to my laundry. It's these small things that make the journey a lot easier."

OCT Solai (second row, centre) with her section mates in BMT before their graduation ceremony this March. [Photo courtesy of OCT Solai]

Though OCT Solai found training tough, she was encouraged by her Officer Cadet School commanders who always told them to "hunt the good stuff" – which is to look out for the positive things that motivate them.

"During one outfield that was particularly long…we were halfway through and I was really exhausted. But I was able to ‘hunt the good stuff' in my interactions with my section mates, in our little jokes between exercises," she said.

"That that kept me going because there was a sense of camaraderie and sisterhood. This has been my biggest takeaway: to have a positive outlook, no matter what you're doing."

One of six SAF Scholarship recipients this year, OCT Solai will be reading International Relations and Organisations at Leiden University, in the Netherlands, this August.

Introduced in 1971, the SAF Scholarship is a prestigious scholarship second only to the President's Scholarship. There are 358 recipients of this scholarship to date, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin, and Chief of Defence Force Lieutenant-General Melvyn Ong.

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